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Vaccination is one of those rare scientific discoveries that changes the landscape of an entire field of knowledge. It has effectively increased the lifespans around most of the globe, and signifies one of the greatest leaps forward in modern medicine. Recently, however, a new sort of movement has taken root in our culture whose goal is to retard the progress of vaccination efforts, because they claim that they are not safe (with no reliable evidence). This anti-vaccination movement (AVM) has two foci that currently in public knowledge, one being the unfounded link between vaccines and autism, and the other being the overall safety of vaccination (think of the recent story of the cheerleader who claimed to be injured by vaccination, and this will be discussed below).

My goal here will be to present the evidence that shows that not only is there absolutely no link between autism and vaccination, and that society as a whole can depend on the safety of vaccination in order to protect our children, prevent epidemics, eliminate preventable disease, etc.

But how does the AVM make such claims against vaccination? We will look at and debunk their claims below.

The History of Vaccination

The breakthrough came when a scientific description of the inoculation operation was submitted to the Royal Society in 1724 by Dr Emmanual Timoni, who had been the Montagu’s (the family that brought a description of rudimentary inoculation from Istanbul) family physician in Istanbul. Inoculation was adopted both in England and in France nearly half a century before Edward Jenner’s famous smallpox vaccine of 1796.

Since then, vaccination campaigns have spread throughout the globe, sometimes prescribed by law or regulations. Vaccines are now used to fight a wide variety of disease threats besides smallpox. Louis Pasteur further developed the technique during the 19th century, extending its use to protecting against bacterial anthrax and viral rabies. The method Pasteur used entailed treating the infectious agents for those diseases so they lost the ability to cause serious disease. Pasteur adopted the name vaccine as a generic term in honor of Jenner’s discovery, which Pasteur’s work built upon.

After this breakthrough, the scientific community sought to destroy the common diseases of the day, beginning in 1798:

First Generation of Vaccines
1798 Smallpox
1885 Rabies
1897 Plague
1917 Cholera
1917 Typhoid vaccine (parental)
1923 Diphtheria
1926 Pertussis
1927 Tuberculosis (BCG)
1927 Tetanus
1935 Yellow Fever
1940s DTP
1945 The first influenza vaccines (flu) began being used.

Was Anyone Hurt Last Year?

The science has been overwhelming on this issue. Let me inundate you with the evidence!

Beginning with  a CDC study encompassing last flu season:
•     As of November 13, 2009, 36.8 million doses of 2009 H1N1 influenza vaccine had been shipped to healthcare providers in the United States.
•     As of November 13, 2009, VAERS (Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System) had received 2365 reports related to 2009 H1N1 influenza vaccination.
•     The vast majority (95%) of adverse events reported to VAERS after receiving the 2009 H1N1 influenza vaccine have not involved serious health problems or outcomes (e.g., they encompass things like soreness at the vaccine injection site).
•     Of the 2365 reports, 116 (5%) were reports that involved what would be considered serious health events.
•     The number of reports involving what would be considered serious health events (i.e., life threatening or results in death, major disability, abnormal conditions at birth, hospitalization, or extension of an existing hospitalization)* is similar to those historically seen after distribution of a similar number of seasonal flu vaccine doses.
•     Among the 2365 reports of adverse events, there were 8 reports of death.
•     The 8 VAERS reports that involve deaths are under review by CDC, FDA and the states where the reported deaths occurred.  Preliminary findings indicate that there does not appear to be common cause or pattern (such as similarities in age, gender, geographic location, illness surrounding death, or underlying medical conditions) to suggest that these deaths were associated with the vaccine. These cases are under further review pending additional medical records (e.g. autopsy reports, medical files).
•     VAERS has received 6 reports of Guillian-Barré syndrome (GBS), for which follow-up assessments are underway.  In the United States, about 80-160 cases of GBS are expected to occur each week, regardless of vaccination.

SUMMARY: Out of the 36.8 million H1N1 doses given, 2365 cases were reported. This is only .006% of the total doses given, and practically insignificant. 95% of these cases were benign, with 8 deaths that had no relation to vaccination itself. Only 6 reports of GBS (an auto-immune syndrome that affects the nerves) were recorded, and this was way below the 80-160 expected each week without vaccination.

What About Thimerosal?

Thimerosal has been used as a preservative in vaccines since the 1930’s. Concerns about the chemical began to crop up in 1999, when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said that because of the increased number of thimerosal-containing vaccines added to the infant vaccination schedule, infants may be exposed to too much mercury. Thimerosal used to be found in hepatitis B, Hib (Haemophilus influenzae type B) and DTP (diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis) vaccines, among others.

During the ensuing years, the FDA worked with manufacturers to eliminate thimerosal from vaccines. Today, thimerosal has been removed or reduced to trace amounts in all vaccines routinely recommended for children 6 years of age and younger, with the exception of inactivated seasonal flu vaccine.

Everyone knows that mercury is bad for you, and the AVM have gone crazy since learning that they had a way to scapegoat the cause of autism in children. The link between autism and mercury is long and perilous, all the time having no evidence to support it. The reality is that you consume many times more mercury every time you eat a tuna sandwich than is in the Thimerosal preservative.

A study published last month concluded that there is no evidence for a link between autism spectrum disorders (ASD’s) and infantile exposure (through vaccination) to Thimerosal.

Methods: A case-control study was conducted in 3 managed care organizations (MCOs) of 256 children with ASD and 752 controls matched by birth year, gender, and MCO. ASD diagnoses were validated through standardized in-person evaluations. Exposure to thimerosal in vaccines and immunoglobulin preparations was determined from electronic immunization registries, medical charts, and parent interviews. Information on potential confounding factors was obtained from the interviews and medical charts.

Conclusions: In our study of MCO members, prenatal and early-life exposure to ethylmercury from thimerosal-containing vaccines and immunoglobulin preparations was not related to increased risk of ASDs.

The Anti-Vaccination Movement really doesn’t have a leg to stand on. I understand that many parents are frustrated that their child has autism, but I believe that frustration has led them to cling to any explanation that will give them answers or allow them to express their anger. Unfortunately, their frustrations are being wasted by joining a movement that will sooner bankrupt the members than change the landscape of medicine.

Are We Giving Too Many Vaccines?

Concerning the claims of the AVM, rates of autism have increased in the past years, the same years that the vaccine schedule has increased. They use this correlation to say that we give children too many vaccines too soon, and that vaccines cause autism. There are three reasons why their claim here is false:

  • While the number of vaccines we give to children has increased, the number of antigens in those vaccines have gone down, being at their lowest levels in years (study linked to chart).
  • A recently study has shown that there is no relationship between the rate of dosing, and harmful effects on the child.
  • The increase in the rate of autism is easily explained by the expansion of the definition of autism spectrum disorders (ASD’s) by the medical community. This expansion now includes many variations of autistic disorders, and explains the increase in rates because now more children fit under the new definition.

Simply stated, we do not give children too many vaccinations, we do not give them too soon, and the increase in autism rates are perfectly explained by the expansion of the definition of autism spectrum disorder.

What Happened to that Cheerleader?

Last year there was a news story that came under the national spotlight, claiming to be evidence for the danger of vaccination. Desiree Jennings, a prospective cheerleader for a national football team, came to her doctors with a neurological condition that she speculated was caused by a recent vaccination. The disorder was diagnosed as dystonia, which is a neurological movement disorder, in which sustained muscle contractions cause twisting and repetitive movements or abnormal postures.

The media took this and ran with it, touting that “vaccination has crippled a cheerleader for life!”, and most of the news stories you will find on the net will say so. However, upon hearing the case, various neurologists were contacted to examine video evidence of Desiree’s condition. What they found was that all of Desiree’s symptoms were psychogenic, or caused by the brain itself (because of stress, mental trauma, etc.).

This was shown to be the case when she herself said that after searching for cases of the disorder online, she found that she could walk, run, and talk normally again,”within five minutes”. She (bullied by the anti-vaccination movement) claims that the disorder was caused by mercury in the vaccine. We have already seen that there is no danger to the minuscule mercury found in vaccines, and that you ingest more mercury in a tuna sandwich, so this clearly cannot be the case. Furthermore, neurological damage caused by mercury exposure would not simply dissipate in “five minutes”, dissolving the symptoms of the disorder. But this is exactly what we would expect if the disorder was brought on by stress (or something related), and the alleviation of this stress would eliminate the symptoms that her own brain was manifesting.

Even though the experts are in agreement that the presentation of this disorder in Desiree was not caused by a vaccine, that didn’t stop a pseudoscience quack from trying to “cure” her.

A Solution to a Non-Problem

Dr. Rashid Buttar, the quack in our case, agreed to help Desiree though the use of “alternative medicine”. He’s the same guy who has promoted, among other quackery, urine injections. He’s the same guy who has charged cancer patients obscene amounts of money for his quackery and made unbelievable promises. He asserts that the validity of his “treatments” is not accepted because  modern medicine just want to sell vaccines (think back to our signs of bogus science). The real problem with his therapies are that they have no evidence or basis in medicine.

He is a staunch proponent for toxicity theories. This is the idea that your body has built up toxins, and that these toxins are the source of all disease etc. He preformed “chelation therapy” for Desiree, which is supposed to remove heavy metals from the body, in this case, mercury (which we know was not in her vaccine in any appreciable amount).

Within less than two weeks, Jennings’ condition seemed to improve: she walked again, and her stutter disappeared. But just as she was leaving Dr. Buttar’s clinic on her last visit in December 2009 — with “20/20’s” cameras rolling (part of an investigative story) — it all seemed to fall apart. Jennings was in distress again. She could no longer walk forward, and had to be taken out in a wheelchair. These two facts are consistent with the diagnosis of psychogenic symptoms. She was getting a treatment she believed would work, and her symptoms alleviated (just like when she saw others online dealing with the condition). However, once outside, the ritual of the therapy wore off, allowing her symptoms to return.

Dr. Steven Novella, an academic neurologist, shows how Buttar inadvertently proved that she couldn’t have gotten anything from the vaccination:

But, unknowingly, Dr. Buttar was about to administer what can be considered a significant test of the hypothesis that Jennings’ symptoms are psychogenic. One test we can use to help confirm this diagnosis is to see if the patient’s symptoms can respond to psychological treatments or to medical treatments that should not otherwise be capable of reversing the symptoms. A response that is too quick to be plausible, for example, is one type of response that supports a psychogenic diagnosis. One dramatic example from my own experience was a patient with apparently psychogenic symptoms who believed that he needed a specific IV medication as a treatment. After extensive negative workup, we agreed to give him the treatment, and his symptoms completely resolved even before the medicine had a chance to work its way through the IV tubing and into his arm.

If Jennings really had dystonia or any biological brain injury from toxicity, removing the toxin might prevent further progression and allow the slow process of recovery to begin. But brain damage does not immediately reverse itself once the cause is removed. It is possible for dystonia to be a side effect of certain medications, and it can immediately resolve once that medication is stopped or reversed. But in that situation we are dealing with an effect of an active blood level of a pharmaceutical agent – something which is inherently reversible. We are not dealing with damage or injury.

However, now Jennings herself, and Dr. Buttar, report that Jennings began to improve while still sitting in the chair and receiving her chelation therapy, and within 36 hours her symptoms were completely gone. First, let me say that I am very happy Ms. Jennings’ symptoms have resolved. Hopefully now she can just go on with her life. But to me, this impossibly rapid recovery is a dramatic confirmation that her symptoms were psychogenic to begin with. It is simply implausible that brain injury from mercury toxicity could be reversed so quickly – especially when you consider that Dr. Buttar had Jennings at death’s door.

Her rapid recovery looks almost as dramatic as a faith healing. I do not think that she is faking, and “psychogenic” doesn’t mean that she can control her symptoms. She is indeed suffering, I’m sure, but what I have a problem with is the fake doctor and his bogus therapies, as well as the bulldog AVM, who used her story immediately as propaganda without evaluating the evidence first.

When asked by “20/20” about the effectiveness of his chelation treatments, Buttar claimed he gets results and pointed to patient testimonials on his website. But when pressed that “anecdotal stories on the Internet are not science,” Buttar responded: “Nobody said it was science.”

Is that proof enough for you? This fake doctor doesn’t even think his own treatments are based in science. From all this evidence we can see that the unfortunate story of Desiree Jennings was simply jumped upon by the Anti-Vaccination Movement, trying to use anything they can to prove vaccinations are harmful. But as we have seen, Desiree had a completely different problem, and vaccines did not cause her any harm.

Ignorance is Not Bliss For Babies

The ultimate problem with this is that now preventable diseases that we thought we had beaten into submission are now returning. There are pockets of the US where polio is resurfacing. This year in California alone, 9 infants have died from whooping-cough. Parents who buy into the misinformation about vaccination are endangering their children, and in turn, the rest of the population.

Some things to remember next time you or someone you know is unsure of vaccination:

  • Above all else, vaccines have a proven safety record.
  • The current vaccination schedule for children offers more shots but less pathogens. Additionally, Thimerosal and other supposedly harmful constituents including mercury have never shown to cause harm in the doses in which they are given.
  • It has been shown that the rate at which the vaccinations are given, or in any combination, does not increase the risk of harm.
  • Absolutely no study has shown that there is a link between vaccination and autism. There is no connection whatsoever.

Here are some additional resources about vaccination: CDC vaccine safety, GB fact sheet, Study showing rate of dosing does not affect health, 2009 Data summary.

With preventable diseases coming back on the scene, we have to fight the ignorance and bad science that campaigns like the AVM are spreading. We can all do our part by getting vaccinated to increase the “herd immunity” of our local populations in order to protect those less informed. Most importantly, we have a proven technique that has effectively increased our lifespan and decreased infant mortality. This technique must not be overshadowed by fear and bad science.

Get vaccinated!